Road danger is biggest barrier to cycling, says research commissioned by DfT

More cycle paths would encourage half of people to take up cycling or ride bikes more often

by Simon_MacMichael   December 13, 2010  

Female Cyclist, London. (copyright Simon MacMichael)JPG

Six in ten people in England who are able to ride a bicycle are deterred from cycling to work because they believe that “it’s too dangerous for me to cycle on the roads,” and half say that they would cycle, or would do so more often, if there were greater provision of cycle paths, according to research commissioned by the Department for Transport (DfT).

Those are two of the key findings related to cycling contained in an interim report entitled Climate Change and Transport Choices conducted by the consumer research firm TNS-BMRB on behalf of the DfT, and while the report does not necessarily reflect the government department’s views, it may prove influential in formulating policy going forward.

The 209-page report, which you can read here, explores consumer attitudes and behaviour in relation to a range of transport options and environmental issues, and includes a detailed analysis of people’s use of bicycles to get to work, with responses broken down by factors including gender, age, socio-economic group, household income and location.

Researchers found that approximately half of respondents either owned a bicycle or had regular use of one, but only one in four of those people cycled regularly, defined as once a week or more. Moreover, although four in ten bicycle owners lived within five miles of their place of work, only 5% of those who own a bicycle or have access to one use it daily.

People aged between 40 and 59 were most likely to have access to a bike – around two thirds of them – but the research also showed that although higher household income increased the likelihood of owning a bicycle and cycling infrequently (at least once a year), it made little difference to levels of regular cycling (at least once a week) or cycling to work on a regular basis.

We’d imagine that one possible explanation for that is that those with higher household incomes, who are likely to have more space at home in which to store bikes, may for example undertake the odd ride with the family in the summer months.

In terms of getting people to leave the car at home and try commuting by bike instead to a workplace or place of study, the survey found that most respondents with access to a bicyle either hadn’t considered this, or if they had, they’d rejected it.

Of those who did start cycling to work, two in three went back to using their car, and a drop-off in bike usage was also seen once commuting distance went beyond three miles. The average commute was nearly nine miles, at which point only 3% of people with access to a bike were using it to travel to their employment.

While almost all respondents – 92% - said that they had learnt to ride a bike, 10% said that they are unable to do so now because of disability or a long-term health issue, while a further 6% claim that such a condition makes it difficult, but not impossible, to take to two wheels.

People who have never learnt to cycle, but don’t have health issues or a disability that would prevent them from doing so, were more likely to be women, people from the lowest socio-economic groups and in the lowest household income quintile as well as Londoners, which suggest to us that efforts to provide outreach cycling initiatives to these marginalised groups should be stepped up.

Chris Peck, campaigns co-ordinator at national cyclists' organisation CTC, told that the survey highlighted that more efforts needed to be made to make the roads safer for bike riders.

"That 63% of respondents to this survey find cycling on roads stressful and just 45% saying they are willing to cycle on roads confirms that we still have a long way to go to make Britain's roads civilised enough for the majority of people to shift to cycling as their main way of getting about. Local authorities need to do much more to improve conditions by reducing traffic speeds and volumes and by providing proper cycle facilities on the busiest streets and roads," he commented.

Jason Torrance, Sustrans’ Policy Manager, added: "Many barriers to walking and cycling are about choice but there are cost-effective ways to widen that choice so that car travel is not the only option especially for everyday travel. Providing good information about local walking, cycling, or public transport can open up travel choices.

"In both urban and rural communities, creating safe, accessible connections is vital to make shorter journeys much more doable without a car. For example the new pedestrian bridge in Worcester or the newly opened riverside boardwalk in Southampton, make easy walking and cycling connections to and from the city centres. Breaking down barriers needs investment and joined-up thinking but has wider positive implications for health as well as the environment."

The survey was based on 3,923 face-to-face interviews conducted in respondents’ homes in England between November 2009 and June 2010, making it one of the most in-depth studies of its type yet conducted.

The report’s authors say that the findings will help “inform the development of the Department for Transport segmentation model of public attitudes to climate change and transport choices,” and will also provide evidence for a useful evidence source for local authorities and the voluntary, communities and social enterprises sector seeking to develop sustainable transport initiatives.’

The final report is due to be published during 2011.

27 user comments

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One person said to me that cyclists were thrill seekers. I certainly felt fear as this lorry overtook me way too close for my liking. Cars regularly overtake closely the worst I had was when one car actually overtook when I was going through a single lane tunnel. I think after a while you just don't notice them as much any more.

I just don't see the UK putting in more cycle paths not in times of austerity. I can see the devolution of powers to cash strapped local authorities with no funds dedicated to cycling meaning no more paths.

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posted by yarrump [15 posts]
13th December 2010 - 10:45


No surprise there then - and the danger is real - nearly got taken out yesterday by some dimwit in an Audi who wanted to overtake all the other cars on the inside by using the bus-lane despite the fact that I was there. He missed me by inches. He was speeding and overtaking on the inside is an offence as the traffic in the lane he should've been in was moving. Even without the danger to me I'd say he should've been due six points on his license for the two offences.


posted by OldRidgeback [2553 posts]
13th December 2010 - 11:06


OldRidgeback why did you leave enough space to overtake? ride in the middle. Ok, the audi was wrong but there are too many like it about. Take the lane!

posted by a.jumper [830 posts]
13th December 2010 - 11:45


I wonder how many of those six in ten people then drive badly around cyclists contributing to danger they are worried about.
More driver education is needed, along with getting drivers to cycle to know what it is like.

More cycle paths would be useful but only if they are decent and not the terrible examples you see now (mainly just a strip of white paint down some pavement).

posted by thereverent [351 posts]
13th December 2010 - 11:53


It's a pretty common thing for non cyclists to say- that they are scared to ride on the road

But what is interesting is

1) Are they using danger as a reason, whereas the real reason is that they are too idle? Or some other reason?
It is a better excuse to say that you fear for your life as opposed to you can't be arsed
Saying it is too dangerous is an excellent discussion stopper

2) Some of them went on to say that they would cycle if there were off road cycle paths. So therefore let's build lots of paths!
Of course it is not practical or possible to build an offroad cycle path everywhere that roads currently go. So you can imagine them saying "You built a path- which is great- but I don't go there"

The report is about "Climate Change and Transport Choices" specifically. Some people questioned are going to understand that the entire population of the UK switching to using non fossil fuel transport is not going to make a blind bit of difference as the Chinese are building a new coal fired power station every month. Some people will be climate change skeptics. Many people simply don't give a toss. So a lot of them will be looking for excuses to keep whatever their current behaviour is.

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posted by vorsprung [298 posts]
13th December 2010 - 12:01


> Are they using danger as a reason, whereas the real reason is that they are too idle? Or some other reason?
My thoughts exactly: "the roads are dangerous" is a socially acceptable reason/excuses, "I am a lazy b.....d" is not (generally !)

posted by zoxed [63 posts]
13th December 2010 - 12:29


Cue the retorts from the vehicular cycling brigade: "What would THEY know? WE know better than they do why they aren't cycling"

Not LIKING the answer isn't the same as it being WRONG.

For most people, cycling on the streets in a high-traffic environment is unpleasant and feels dangerous. No amount of sticking head in sand will take away that fact.

Training is not the answer. Taking the primary position is not the answer.

posted by ozzage [4 posts]
13th December 2010 - 12:50


> Not LIKING the answer isn't the same as it being WRONG.

Equally: LIKING the answer isn't the same as it being RIGHT.

posted by zoxed [63 posts]
13th December 2010 - 13:23


The trouble is that the reason cycling IS (a bit)dangerous is the vast number of people who THINK it's (very) dangerous driving their cars everywhere. The level of danger is not static, it depends in substantial part on the number of people not cycling.

While these people's perception of danger is fair enough, I do think it's probably exaggerated by a lack of experience. As a daily cyclist I can quantify my experience of actual peril - I have a bad experience every year or so, usually with no real harm being done and statistically expect to die of being old. Lots of things I can't and don't do look very dangerous but are probably well within my actual tolerance for risk.

posted by BigDummy [314 posts]
13th December 2010 - 13:36

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I think Ozzage is right.
I commute 12 miles to work on very busy roads between Worthing and Brighton (with a fully operating port in between with all the usual HGV movements). Although the vast majority of the time holds no incident (because I've cycled for many years and hold the lane etc) I still find myself asking 'Would a novice REALLY enjoy this?' and if I'm truthful, the answer is no.

We need decent infrastructure based on the Dutch model - which means designing the car out of urban environments and providing safe, well designed (for a change) segregated routes ONLY when necessary. People may scoff at the Netherlands but they have managed a modal share that cycling 'experts' can only dream of over here.

That no European delegates were present at the last CTC Cycle Nation conference in Edinburgh recently, leaving it to Roger Geffen of CTC to um and ah over Copenhagen facilties is telling.

The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club

posted by TheJollyJimLad [13 posts]
13th December 2010 - 14:04


The question has to be what is the DfT going to do to change this? Well they could stop taking the Taliban approach to road safety, and start looking at a harm reduction approach.

posted by Kim [201 posts]
13th December 2010 - 14:30


Who actually enjoys driving in peak hours? Not one person I work with for starters! But they regard cycling as uncomfortable and requiring physical effort and exertion and once I do the "it isn't 'that' dangerous speech" they fall back on those two excuses. That's the reason they won't quit cars; comfort and convenience. Cost will drive most of them out in the end. What person in a normal job with a normal commutte of 10 miles is going to be able to afford £1.75 - £2.00 per litre of pertol?

Really, though?

posted by workhard [393 posts]
13th December 2010 - 14:44

1 Like

The thing is that higher fuel costs won't see a modal shift. They'll just make adjustments to their lifestyle or take on board more credit - like the monthly credit they've probably already committed to keeping a new car.

Campaigners like Peck can twist the statistics and bleat all he likes but it's time to go Dutch. Build it [to the correct standard] and they will come. The Skyride in London attracted (I believe) 60,000 cyclists with the promise of traffic free cycling. We ignore that plus the modal shares in the Netherlands and Denmark at our peril. To all those that then go on about it being expensive, I shall simply refer them to all the motorway expansion and bypass plans that are still scheduled by Hammond Organ. You'd be amazed at what we can still find money for.

The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club

posted by TheJollyJimLad [13 posts]
13th December 2010 - 15:55


a.jumper - the guy in the Audi veered around me and I was in the middle of the bus lane. He was being pursued by a Porsche and I suspect they were racing and/or were under the influence of drink or drugs.


posted by OldRidgeback [2553 posts]
13th December 2010 - 17:11


Well, I have to agree with TheJollyJimLad on this one - I often have cause to reflect on my commute that I wouldn't really be happy if my teenage daughter was doing this.

While a lot of people driving on the road is part of the problem, the fact that so many people's actual driving ability falls way short of their estimation of it is an even bigger one, that includes so-called professional drivers - in my experience a lot of them are the worst.

Like OldRidgeback I was nearly taken out the other day by a guy I'm sure was racing the bloke, who almost took me out, before he was forced to slam on the brakes when it suddently occurred to even his dim brain that he wasn't going to make it through pinch point installed (by an equally dim traffic engineer) to slow him down without collecting me in the process.

If Bath is indicative of the rest of the country then our roads are full of piss-poor traffic calming measures that actually put vulnerable road users at risk. The topography here doesn't help cyclists, but traffic engineers make things worse when they don't take in to account the effects a hill has on someone riding a bike when they install pinch points to slow down traffic on fast moving roads - you need a pretty strong nerve to claim your lane when you've got a demonic bus driver or a massive HGV bearing down on you determined to make that gap without having to drop a gear… You also have to hope that man in the white van is paying full attention to the road ahead…

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4201 posts]
13th December 2010 - 17:33


OldRidgeback - you have wider bus lanes than me but sounds like the patnabi would have driven into you otherwise.

Bath is particularly bad (tiny right-of-centre council innit?) but most places are little better. Sad

posted by a.jumper [830 posts]
13th December 2010 - 18:57


Everybody should also take special note of this sentence:

"Of those who did start cycling to work, two in three went back to using their car"

Experience is not enough. Convincing people to start is not enough.

Sometimes I think experience has just made me foolhardy, and actually my initial fear when cycling on London main roads was right!

posted by ozzage [4 posts]
13th December 2010 - 18:59

1 Like

a.jumper - London has benefited from the fact that the current mayor (Boris Johnson) is a cyclist and that while the last mayor (Ken Livingstone) wasn't, he was also keen on cycling as a whole. But there are a lot of piss poor car drivers who go too fast and try and jam their vehicles into spaces where they don't fit. Driving aggressively in London by weaving from lane to lane doesn't get you much further forward. It's particularly noticeable when I'm on my motorbike how the aggressive car drivers will fight to get one or two cars further forward - and then I sail past on the outside at the next set of lights. At one job I had years ago I used to cycle past my colleague at New Cross most mornings, give him a wave as he sat nose to tail in a jam in his car and be in the office at Woolwich 10-15 minutes before him each day. I do think if more car drivers rode motorcycles and bicycles in traffic from time to time they'd realise the utter pointlessness of driving a car in a congested urban area unless they're carrying a heavy load or other passengers. Most drivers I see on my commute are of course on their own. I don't know the statistics but I would expect that the vast majority of car drivers commuting are on their own and could easily switch to a motorcycle or bicycle dependng on the length of their commute - with noticeable benefits in reducing congestion.


posted by OldRidgeback [2553 posts]
14th December 2010 - 9:36


As cyclists we need to do our bit to make our experience safer as well. Too many cyclists expect drivers to do all the safety work and look out for them. If you wear head to toe black & rely on a tiny light how do you expect drivers to see you in plenty of time. Until we get the Dutch infrastructure cyclists need to wear a HiViz jacket & rucksack cover, decent lights & ride defensively as if on a motorbike. I have almost no problems on the roads of Surrey & London by making myself visible & treating car drivers with respect. When driving, & we all do, you have to look out for large coloured objects, be it roadsigns, other cars, buses, trucks etc, yet cyclists expect a thin sliver moving quickly, dressed in black to be treated with special care, it is two-faced. Driving is busy & anything we do that makes them act properly is a big help. Do your bit too.

posted by mchillingworth [1 posts]
14th December 2010 - 13:01

1 Like

TheJollyJimLad wrote:
Build it [to the correct standard] and they will come.

You're living in Cloud Cuckoo Land. This is a total pipe dream, especially in the current economic situation. Why? Read this:

On a separate point, raising the price of fuel may not convince many drivers to switch to cycling but it could reduce the number of dangerous manoeuvures we see - sharp acceleration followed by heavy braking in traffic, overtaking into oncoming traffic and so on. It also may convince some people to car-share to reduce fuel costs - an almost effortless change to implement that would have immediate benefits, as most cars I see on the way to work have a single occupant. It could also help drivers to make fewer journeys overall, as they will organise their trip to visit several places at once rather than jumping in the car each time they "need to pop out to the shops".

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2375 posts]
14th December 2010 - 15:01

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I beg to differ Simon E. The Netherlands and Denmark and New York aren't anywhere near Cloud Cookoo Land (according to Google Earth) and don't give me that rubbish about the 'current economic climate'. Take one look at what the Government has planned for new road schemes or the millions for electric cars. If a fraction of that was spent was providing decent facilties for cyclists, we could have the kind of modal shift that we will never achieve if we keep listening to the current cycling campaigning establishment and expecting novice cyclists to mix it up with todays traffic levels.

And don't believe for a moment that raising the cost of fuel will have a major impact on short journeys. This is a country that took to a lager because it marketed itself as 'Reasurringly Expensive'. It is status obsessed (which is another reason why the bicycle has received such a panning in recent decades).

We are in Cloud Cookoo Land at the moment deluding ourselves like the CTC et al. Look across the North Sea at what Common Sense looks like.

The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club

posted by TheJollyJimLad [13 posts]
14th December 2010 - 15:28

1 Like

Of course we expect drivers to do all the safety work. Cars are really dangerous to those around them, why shouldn't their drivers do a proportional amount of safety work? And if they don't, how can they possibly deserve "respect"? Careless driving is stupendously antisocial.

And driving is only as busy as you make it. I have kids at the learning-to-drive age, the point I stress over and over again, is that if you don't like what you see, you can slow down, even stop. The guy behind you has responsibility and incentive not to rear-end you, and you are under no obligation to drive beyond your comfort level just because other people are in a hurry.

posted by dr2chase [16 posts]
14th December 2010 - 19:35

1 Like

Picked this item up as i did the rounds today Scam by New York Cops or Dick Turpin riding again ?

Skippy(advocate for "Disabled / Para Sport")@skippydetour. blogging as skippi-cyclist.blogspot & Parrabuddy.blogspot currently on the road with ProTour Grand Tour Events .

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posted by skippy [406 posts]
14th December 2010 - 19:43

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A driving instructor complained to me earlier that after Bikeability there's no formal means to teach kids cycle awareness. So they reach 17, get the keys of a car by which time they've long forgotten what it feels like to ride a bike in traffic.

The only chance to create a new generation of bikeaware drivers is by making cycling part of the driving test. See then go to and support the campaign.

If you can't ride, you shouldn't drive.

iDavid's picture

posted by iDavid [47 posts]
15th December 2010 - 18:24


If a cycling test was introduced as part of the driving test, which I think could be done as there are lots of cycling schools in existence to cover it.
It would help new drivers to be more considerate to cyclists and would also create more instructor jobs in cycling.
Maybe there could be a few lessons on the bike before they take to the car. This would heighten their observational skills and road sense before they even start driving a car.
Most people learn to drive for the independence that it offers. Learning to drive can be a long and tedious process, they often can't wait to pass their test and achieve that independence
They can achieve that independence at the start of their driving lessons through cycling, it may even help to convert more new drivers to cyclists as they would already have the skills and confidence to ride.


posted by tommy2p [86 posts]
21st December 2010 - 3:09

1 Like

Why reveal yet again that roads are perceived by many to be too dangerous for cycling - unless to highlight that it’s substantially a misperception. Walking a mile is more risky than cycling a mile; it takes 15,000 cycling years per fatality; health benefits outweigh risks twenty fold ; so if anything it’s riskier not to cycle. But I don’t suppose it was part of DfT’s remit to do that in this Climate Change report. Fortunately they are more thorough in their ‘Cycle Infrastructure Design - LTN2/08’.

Nevertheless safety improvements are needed. Despite our overall casualties being among the best, for children and vulnerable road users we are among the worst.
Vehicular cycling as well as top notch dedicated provisions have a part to play. But you’d think from some previous comments that they cannot co-exist.
Everyday I see people dressed up like spacemen in order to cycle, doubtless thinking they’re making themselves much safer. And then they manoeuvre in way which risks a collision. Whilst they wouldn’t be ‘at fault’, it would be avoided if they learnt some ‘cyclecraft’ or vehicular cycling. Many of those I’ve trained in cyclecraft, on and off road, have seen the light.

Nevertheless, it’s not everyone who can become comfortable with ‘holding the lane’ and all the other ploys of vehicular cycling. But neither should they have to put up with the kind of low standard ‘facility’ which gets built by our largely cycling-unaware councils.

Dutch style dedicated cycle provision would be great. But it goes hand in hand with councils who understand cycling, have a political will to re-allocate road space, with a large proportion of the population cycling, so that it is not seen as an ‘out group’ activity resulting in demonisation as here. And they never had to start from the point where cycling had almost died out. Then there’s their ‘Strict Liability’ laws (so that motor insurance automatically pays up in a car vs. vulnerable user collision, unless there’s grounds to the contrary; the motorist is only held to be liable, not at fault or culpable in law. Suggest it here and there are cries of outrage, even though all of Europe apart from us, Eire, Malta and Cyprus recognise the benefits).

But let’s not lose heart; push for Dutch style infrastructure but with UK constraints – including big budget cuts - in mind, and encourage vehicular cycling as well. After all that’s how the Dutch reach the parts their cycle tracks cannot reach (Heineken advert duly acknowledged).

Where we cannot get Dutch quality tracks and we can’t enable people to cycle confidently on the roads let’s ensure they know about the snags, as in illegal or legalised pavement cycling, so that until we get Holland in Albion they are not unwittingly put themselves at risk as well as inconvenience.

John Mallows, Policy Director, cyclenation. (the federation of cycle campaign groups)


posted by orpen [6 posts]
12th January 2011 - 18:50


Chris Peck said "Local authorities need to do much more to improve conditions by reducing traffic speeds and volumes and by providing proper cycle facilities on the busiest streets and roads," he commented. What part of that do you not agree with Jim? Why do you feel the need to attack people who agree with you?

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posted by wildnorthlands [29 posts]
13th January 2011 - 14:41